Sunday, November 14, 2010

Interview with two Colony writers...

Brian Fidler and Andrew Templeton are two of the four writers participating in PTC’s fifth annual Writers Colony. Dramaturg Heidi Taylor spoke with them on the eve of the Colony to take a look under the hood at the mechanics of playwriting. 

HT: Something I’ve been curious about, not having worked with either of you as a dramaturg, is how you move from source material to script? Is it a repeatable process? How did that happen for your Colony play? 

BF: This is a new one for me for source material in terms of making it into a script. I often write the script after. I write the script for the SM and Lighting designer. It’s always been developed physically. For this one I’ve been trying something new  - to be more of a playwright. Because the source material is so close to me. The original source is from my grandma who lived with us when I was a kid – my mom was an only child, so we were her only grandchildren. When I started, it was almost too close – theatre as therapy. So I had to ask, is it a story that I really want to tell. So I made the grandma the grandpa – so I could look at the source material without breaking down – it’s so raw. The switch worked,  I could still source it but I didn’t have to cry every time I read it.

AT: Sometimes you know where you’re going with a piece – you have an outline you’re following – but The Last Occupant of Troy started as a simple writing exercise, a fun break, about two characters standing next to a door. 

Although I’m often classified as a “literary” playwright, my scripts have at their core a founding image, a visual that inspires the work. For Troy, it was two Beckett-like tramps, standing next to a door. The door was to be the only prop on stage and the actors were meant to move it around to create entrances – doorways – to different worlds. Once I had the image, I just wrote, and the characters and situations grew out of that process. My characters tend to sound an awful like me in the first draft but as I refine them, they become more and more distinct. Despite the visual keystone that underpins the work, ultimately my creative process is auditory. I’m interested in the musicality of the human voice. All of my plays have an inherent musical score and a great deal of the crafting process is refining that score, finding those rhythms.

HT: Both of you have produced your own work in other Canadian cities. What’s the best part about producing your own work? 

BF: It’s always funny the perception that people have when you do one person shows. So people have the perception that “you like to do things by yourself.” It couldn’t be further from the truth. This idea that you like to make things on your own, or don’t like to be on stage with other people. I like working with other people! And there’s so many other people involved in making the work. It’s a dialogue with the lighting designer, the sound designer… The sound designer is such a huge player in this show. It’s not a one person show, it’s me and the sound. And the army. The Whole Army.

The reason it has been the way it is – it’s cheaper – when I want to rehearse, there’s less overhead to do it myself. I can call my meetings whenever. On the other side it’s the touring – as little gear as possible and as cheaply as possible. I’m always asking how to get out of the Territory. I do larger cast stuff in the Yukon.

AT: The best part has to be creative control. Instead of your personal contribution ending at the rehearsal room door, you remain immersed in all aspects that go into a production; you remain engaged in the various dialogues. Even if you aren’t directly leading them, you’re at the table. It also impacts on the director/playwright relationship as well. It does mean having a clear sense of roles and responsibilities, so that there are no confusions. I do enjoy producing – although it can be exhausting.

HT: Any surprises? 

AT: About Toronto? Probably the biggest is that despite having a healthy ecology, the same concentric circles of engagement exist there as they do here in Vancouver: theatre professionals at the centre, theatre-devotees in the next circle and then, on the outside, the general public. Toronto theatre faces the same problems we do in Vancouver in terms of reaching out to that final, wider circle – although the inner circles are naturally that much bigger and more sustaining.

HT: Where do you find inspiration for writing for the theatre? What makes live performance relevant for you? 

BF: I think it’s similar to so many people where I had early theatre experiences that were so close to magic. Every once in a while a film comes along that is magical, but it’s never quite the same.

I like shifting perspective – something I took from Mermaid theatre – I learned from making shows for kids 2-4 years old. One of the things that keeps it alive – you change perspective on them – as long as people understand it, they really enjoy it.

AT: Although I love film – and would like to try writing for film – when I reach the end of my life and think of the top experiences I had as an audience member, I’ve no doubt the list will be dominated by theatre. And the reasons are all the clichés we hear about the performing arts: that you’re sharing time with the performers, breathing the same air, existing in a rare moment. When you see something magical happen in a film, you know it’s been digitally mastered, created in a laboratory. When you see, say, a Lepage or a Castelluci, the images that are the most affecting, the most lasting, are those that are created with bodies and concrete things: it’s ancient and visceral, it’s a form of real magic. The catharsis you experience in the performing arts is more profound because the identification is somehow more intimate and immediate. What happens on a screen always feels colder, more distant (and, of course, infinitely repeatable – it lives in our memories differently).

Although I rarely consider what I’m doing in any sort of macro way, I also feel as if my work forms a sort dialogue with all the playwrights that have gone before.

PTC hosts Brian Fidler, Andrew Templeton, Elaine Avila, and Elyne Quan at our fifth annual Writers Colony November 15-23, 2010. To meet Elyne and Elaine and hear readings from their work, join us at a PGC/Canada Council sponsored free reading, Friday, November 19, 2010, 4-5 pm at SFU Woodwards, Room 4390, 149 West Hasting, (Atrium entrance, 4th floor).

Brian Fidler (top), Andrew Templeton (bottom):

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Great interview, Heidi!

Really enjoying the new website.